Taking stock of climate issues amid war in Ukraine
As 2021 drew to a close, the burning issue facing our planet was global warming. It was a “code red for humanity”, to quote UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in response to an alarming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Only scientists fully understand what this means – a slow, almost unstoppable burn for our planet and humanity.
Then, all of a sudden, Russia invaded Ukraine and started a senseless war that made us forget for now the climate crisis we are facing. And yet, the two events will feed off each other and bring the world closer to catastrophe.
As the demand for oil to run the engines of war and civilization soars, the world is in the grip of an oil shock. Inflationary pressures are mounting and consumer sentiment is on the rise.
“ASEAN governments must now address the life and death issues of the air we breathe by taking gasoline-powered vehicles off the road.”
Rising prices for fertilizers and other agricultural inputs are lost in the noise. Farmers need fuel to power their tractors, plows, combines and delivery trucks.
We are now caught between a rock and a hard place. The knee-jerk reaction of governments is to drive down oil prices – by increasing supplies from underground reserves in the United States, South America, Europe and reluctantly from politically neutral countries in the Middle East.
Ignore High Oil Prices, Go Green
In the meantime, we are ignoring the climate crisis and opting for the palliative – to continue to keep oil prices low and pollute the world with the carbon dioxide emissions from the engines of war and civilization. Rather, I insist that the time has come to really push towards renewable energy. Bite the bullet. Continue to mitigate the climate crisis.
Let our desperation for industrial energy lead us to turn to renewables. The United States must lead by example and not be sidetracked from its “Build Back Better” plan to renovate its highways, rebuild its factories, and power its engines of industry and transportation with renewable green energy.
I quoted the United States at the beginning of this article because, even if it is involved in the war against Ukraine through its military assistance, we need its leadership to advance the dynamics of renewable energies. It alone will spend US$9.5 billion over the next 10 years to boost hydrogen production in the United States. Hydrogen is needed to decarbonize industrial products because it substitutes for fossil fuels to generate intense heat and store chemical energy.
US scientists hope to reduce the cost of making hydrogen with renewable electricity by at least 80% over the next 10 years. This is when it becomes price competitive with oil, gas and coal, according to US experts.
Renewable energies are picking up in Asia
The good news is that the trend towards renewable energy is also gaining momentum in Asia. nine of ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States are determined to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to combat climate change. Only the Philippines lag behind.
Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are leading ASEAN’s renewable energy race with some of the biggest renewable energy projects in Southeast Asia in 2022. Indonesia has two floating solar power plants – a power plant of 40 megawatts at a plant in Krakatau Steel and a 145 megawatt station in Cirata, West Java. They should be online this year. Thailand plans to install 1.77 gigawatts of green power capacity this year, most of which will be renewable. Vietnam hopes to see 488 megawatts installed in 2022.
Meanwhile, AC Energy, controlled by Ayala Corp. Filipino billionaire Jaime Zobel de Ayala, and Singapore-based Sunseap Group – backed by Thai billionaire Isara Vongkusolkit’s energy company Banpu pcl – are investapproximately US$2.4 billion in renewable energy projects across Southeast Asia.
In particular, Sunseap has agreed with Badan Pengusahaan Batam to build a $2 billion floating solar farm and energy storage facility on the Indonesian island of Batam, just 45 minutes by ferry from Singapore. The floating solar farm, which can produce 2.2 gigawatts of peak electricity, covers 1,600 hectares on the Duriangkang Reservoir in the southern part of Batam Island, making it one of the largest largest floating photovoltaic systems in the world. It has also installed solar panels on the roofs of over 3,000 buildings in Singapore. Batam’s solar farm will potentially offset more than 1.8 million metric tons of carbon per year, which is equivalent to taking more than 400,000 cars off the road every year.
Speaking of cars, it’s time for ASEAN countries, with a collective population of nearly 700 million and a region known for rapid adoption of new technologies, to join the electric vehicle bandwagon on behalf of a clean environment. ASEAN governments must now solve the life and death problems of the air we breathe by taking gasoline-powered vehicles off the road.
Let us use our oil reserves to keep prices low and at the same time continue to develop renewable energy resources – solar, wind, wave, hydro and geothermal.
We must not allow the war in Ukraine and soaring oil prices to distract us from the goal that the world voiced breathlessly in the November 23 declaration from COP 26 in Glasgow: “to keep hope to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C”. .
Let’s not betray that hope — or we’ll burn.
Crispin Maslog, former editor at Agence France-Presse and science journalist, taught science journalism at Silliman University and the University of the Philippines Los Banos.
This piece was produced by the Asia and Pacific office of SciDev.Net.